May 17, 2016, Harrisburg, Pa.—Can a government union indefinitely prevent teachers from donating their own money to the charities they choose? That question is central to a 2014 lawsuit filed by the Fairness Center on behalf of two Pennsylvania public schoolteachers who object to unionism on religious grounds.
Today, legislation—House Bill 267, sponsored by Rep. John Lawrence—designed to close a legal loophole allowing government unions to violate religious objectors’ due process rights advanced out of the House State Government Committee.
"I’m delighted Rep. Lawrence introduced this bill and that other lawmakers consider it a priority," commented Jane Ladley, a retired Chester County teacher who, along with teacher Chris Meier of Lancaster County, is a plaintiff in the 2014 lawsuit. "Union leaders shouldn’t have a say over what charities I support with my own money. This bill ensures that other public school teachers won’t face the same discrimination I have faced and are protected from union intimidation."
David Osborne, president and general counsel for the Fairness Center, said the bill would prevent government unions from taking advantage of teachers like Ladley:
This legislation would provide a solution to the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s overbearing demand to pick and choose which charities teachers like Jane and Chris can support. Current law provides no mechanism to resolve my clients’ dispute with the union. While I’m confident this issue will be resolved in their favor in the courts, I’m pleased that lawmakers have stepped up to defend future teachers from overbearing union leaders taking advantage of legal loopholes.
Jane Ladley, a now-retired Chester County teacher, and Chris Meier, a Lancaster County teacher, are religious objectors to forced unionism. They are not union members and do not pay "fair share" fees for nonmembers. Instead, state law lets them donate money in lieu of fees to any nonreligious charity "agreed upon" by the employee and the union.
However, the law provides no mechanism to resolve a dispute if the union refuses to agree to a teacher’s chosen charity, and the PSEA has taken full advantage. The union refused Ladley’s and Meier’s charity selections and insists that it can hold their money in escrow unless the teachers agree to charities selected by the union.
The matter currently sits before the Lancaster County Court, awaiting a judge’s decision on discovery requests.
The Fairness Center also represents Apollo-Ridge High School teacher Linda Misja in a separate lawsuit on the same issue filed in federal court in 2015. In that case, the PSEA refused to send Misja’s money to the pro-life pregnancy center she chose and suggested a pregnancy center that supports "all options" instead. A judge in that case recently said that, because of the wording of the current law, Pennsylvania’s "vague" religious objector statute "is primed to run headlong into a confrontation with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."
David Osborne is available for comment today. Please contact John Bouder at 570-490-1042 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.
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The Fairness Center is a nonprofit, public interest law firm offering free legal services to those facing unjust treatment from public employee union leaders. For more information visit www.FairnessCenter.org.
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